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Creation Answer Book raises questions

A review of The Creation Answer Book by Hank Hanegraaff
Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 2012.

reviewed by Lita Sanders

Published: 5 July 2012 (GMT+10)
amazon.com

Hank Hanegraaff has been known as ‘The Bible Answer Man’ for some time now, so perhaps when he names a book The Creation Answer Book, it’s not necessarily copying from our Creation Answers Book (first printed in 2006). But all the same, there are some regrettable errors that mean that the two should definitely not be confused.

The book has an undeniably attractive cover, with bright colors and attractive font which draws the eye, and a high-quality hardback binding. The book is organized around the following categories of questions: Creation and First Things, Creation and the Garden of Eden, Creation and the Flood, Creation and the Age Question, Creation and the Problem of Evil, Creation and Dinosaurs, Creation and Evolution, and Creation and Re-Creation. Each set of questions has a section called ‘Advanced questions’ but even these answers are written at a very accessible level. Each question takes anywhere from 1–3 pages, and between the size of the pages and the font used, this is never more than a few hundred words, which makes the answers necessarily lightweight. This is perhaps more so than is warranted for an audience interested in picking up something titled The Creation Answer Book—one is occasionally disappointed that he didn’t go a bit deeper. There are Bible verses at the end of each answer, which give the feel of a ‘creation devotional’. Occasionally Hanegraaff makes statements which it would be helpful to follow up on, but there are no footnotes, which severely limits the usefulness of the book in that regard.

The positives

There is a lot that’s good about The Creation Answer Book—which will surprise many who know Hanegraaff’s track record on creation (but yes, he still believes the Framework Hypothesis—read on before rushing out to buy it!). When speaking about evolution and even progressive creation, his statements sound a lot like something you might find in CMI’s publications. When he is answering questions like “Can chance account for the universe?”, “Did Adam and Eve really exist?”, and “Did God use evolution as His method of creation?” the answers are completely sound.

Hanegraaff also gives the major young earth creationist ministries credit for rejecting dubious arguments for their position like the canopy theory and the Paluxy tracks.

Compromising

When the answers to the questions Hanegraaff uses as the section titles are biblical, it’s straightforward and persuasive. But when they’re not biblical, often one feels like he is purposely avoiding a straight answer. For instance, in his answer to ‘Can the Big Bang be harmonized with Genesis?’ he notes that the Big Bang proposes a beginning to the universe (although technically, the Big Bang says that the universe expanded from an infinitely dense singularity—it doesn’t have anything to say about where that singularity itself came from), and a beginning requires a cause.1 He says:

Furthermore, if the universe had a beginning, it had to have a cause. Indeed, the cause of all space, time, matter, and energy must be non-temporal, immaterial, and unfathomably powerful and personal. As such, the Big Bang flies in the face of the preposterous proposition that the universe sprang into existence from nothing and lends credence to the Genesis contention of a Creator who spoke and the universe leaped into existence” (21, emphasis in original).

But the beginning of a Big Bang differs in important ways from the contentions of Genesis regarding creation: see Christian apologists should abandon the big bang. He doesn’t actually say that the Big Bang can be harmonized with Genesis; instead he says, “While we must not stake our faith on Big Bang cosmology, we can be absolutely confident that, as human understanding progresses, creation will continue to point to the One who spoke the universe into existence” (22). Which of course is not an answer to the question at all. And since he’s the one posing the questions that he’s answering, it’s especially unsatisfying.

The ‘book of nature’

Like many compromising creationists, he refers often to the ‘book of nature’, which he equates with general revelation. He says:

[T]he book of nature augments human reason through natural revelation. Indeed, it was failure to apply the explanatory power of natural revelation to the mysteries of the universe that trapped pagan thinkers in the intellectual cul-de-sac of their own thinking (25–26).

We would agree that Christians can learn important things by observing nature and drawing conclusions (after all, we employ many scientists, ranging from chemists, to biologists, to geologists). But calling nature a ‘book’ is an error, because unlike books, nature cannot communicate to us in propositional statements. Nature can give us raw facts, such as a dinosaur bone or sand of a certain composition. But it can’t tell us, in and of itself, how old the dinosaur bone is, or whether the erosion rate of a certain cliff has always proceeded at the rate which has been measured for the past century. But Scripture communicates in statements that can be said to be true or false.2 But in some cases, apparently we are to value the ‘book of Nature’ above the revelation in Scripture. Hanegraaff dismissively says, “Readers concerned with a chronology of creation need look no further than God’s revelation in the book of nature” (66).

He also says, “The biblical text is not designed to communicate whether the Flood was global with respect to the earth or universal with respect to humanity. That debate is ultimately settled by a proper ‘reading’ of the book of nature (Psalm 19:1–4)” (86). But this is problematic, because the ‘book of nature’ is being used as an authority over Scripture (which does teach a global flood, and this is how the New Testament authors interpreted it).

The age question

Under the heading “Is this a young world after all?” Hanegraaff gives what he thinks are “a veritable host of clues” about the age of the earth from “the book of nature.” First, he thinks that the speed of light, and the distance of the farthest stars we can see from us, is an indication of the earth’s age—but he is knowledgeable enough about other biblical creationist writings that he should know we’ve considered the apparent starlight travel problem at some length.

He goes on to say:

Furthermore, star life is a persuasive argument for a universe measured in billions of years. Star life depends on star mass. A star like the sun has enough fuel to burn for an estimated 9 billion years. Conversely, the fuel of a star half the size of the sun may last as long as 20 billion years. As such, the universe is presumed to be at least as old as the oldest stars within it. (100).

The last sentence is self-evidently true, but if he meant it to follow from those directly before it, as the conjunction would seem to indicate, this would reveal a significant error in thinking. It would be like saying, “Bill could easily live to be 90 years old,” and then assuming that Bill must therefore be 90 years old. Further, the entire paragraph appears meant to have the reader presume that there are stars in the universe that are billions of years old, and thus the inherent truth of the final sentence leads one to conclude that the universe is billions of years old. But this commits the logical fallacy of begging the question, i.e. presupposing that which one is seeking to prove.

The last bit of evidence he believes points to a long time scale is ice cores in places like Antactica (101). But young earth creationists have researched ice cores too.

Young Earth liabilities?

One question is ‘What are [sic] exegetical liabilities of the twenty-four-hour view’? (110–111). He claims that arguing that “God employed nonsolar light to govern the days until he created the sun, moon, and stars on Day 4” is problematic because “the biblical text literally says, ‘There was evening, and there was morning,’ indicating that the first three days of creation were normal solar days encompassing daylight and darkness (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13)” (110). But there’s something very important that Genesis does to indicate that the first three days weren’t determined by sunlight or its absence—it says that the sun, moon, and stars were created on Day 4! The idea of light without the sun is not foreign to the rest of Scripture either. Revelation 21–22 says that the glory of God will be the light of the New Jerusalem, and that there will be no need for the sun or moon (v. 21–23).

He also argues: “Furthermore, the dominant argument that the Hebrew word yom (meaning day) used with a numeral always, always, always refers to a literal twenty-four-hour solar day does not correspond to reality. Hosea 6:2 is a devastating counter-example. Here, as in other passages (Zechariah 14:7), yom preceded by a numeral represents a period of time far longer than a single solar day” (110). But this is extraordinary: The passage in Hosea is clearly poetic; the X / X + 1 construction is a particular sort of parallelism that is common in Hebrew poetry. In contrast, Genesis has all the markers of historical narrative. The word yom is only one part of our argument for 24-hour days, so it’s disingenuous to act like citing Hosea refutes the whole position. In fact, Hosea 6:2 is a problem for non-literal days because the point is that deliverance will come quickly—it may not come in three literal days, but it won’t be thousands of years either, so these ‘days’ don’t represent thousands of years.

He continues: “Finally, the unending nature of the seventh day constitutes a major exegetical problem for the twenty-four-hour interpretation. Logically and literarily, the seventh day cannot simultaneously be unending and temporal” (111). One can only conclude that he’s talking about God’s rest in Hebrews. But God’s seventh day rest ended, or Jesus could not have said “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17).

A retroactive Fall

While Hanegraaff accepts a timescale of billions of years, and therefore must put death before the Fall by virtue of the rock layers filled with fossils of thorns and dead animals which supposedly preserve evidence of millions of years of history, he emphatically argues that all death and suffering must be a direct consequence of Adam’s sin. He does this by adopting Dembski’s idea of a ‘retroactive fall’. He says “Surely God could cause the effects of the fall to temporally precede their cause!” But would such a God be good or moral? In what situation is it appropriate to enact a penalty before the transgression? Hanegraaff says that this parallels how people could be saved by Christ’s sacrifice during the Old Testament times before Jesus lived. But it is a gift of mercy for a penalty to be overlooked in anticipation of future payment. And the case does not become any better when he appeals to God’s being outside of time as a basis, because the creation which was cursed is within time, as are the inhabitants who suffer the effects of this penalty.

Odd statements

Throughout the book, there are a few odd statements which are presented in a worryingly authoritative tone. For instance, he says that “Eve was not deceived by a talking snake. Rather Moses used the symbol of a snake to communicate the wiles of the evil one who deceived Eve through mind-to-mind communication—precisely as he seeks to deceive you and me today” (64).

And he accepts the story of Noah’s Ark as historical, but argues that “the biblical text is not designed to communicate whether the Flood was global with respect to the earth or universal with respect to humanity. That debate is ultimately settled by a proper ‘reading’ of the book of nature (Psalm 19:1–4)” (86). But as we’ve pointed out so many times, if the Flood was not global, there would be no need to preserve animals (including birds, which could just fly to the nearest mountain range) on board the Ark, and Noah and his family could simply have migrated.

Conclusion

Hanegraaff calls origins “the single most important apologetic issue” (xii) and says that “how you view your origins will determine how you live your life. If you suppose you are a function of random processes, you will live life by a wholly different standard than if you know you are created in the image of God and accountable to him” (39). When he says “if Adam and Eve did not eat the forbidden fruit and fall into a life of perpetual sin terminated by death, there is no need for redemption,” (75) he might almost be mistaken for a biblical creationist, especially when compared to compromisers like BioLogos and Hugh Ross.

But in so many places his Creation Answer Book falls short of a biblical view on creation. He shows scorn for young-earth creationists: “Rather than mining Genesis for all its wealth, fundamentalist fervor seems bent on forcing the language into a literalist labyrinth from which nothing but nonsense can emerge” (65). This is a very unsympathetic portrayal of biblical creationists, who are trying to take Scripture at its word. One might equally criticize Hanegraaff for using the ‘book of nature’ as a hermeneutical key that overrides the clear teachings of Scripture.

Someone of Hanegraaff’s standing will automatically have an audience when he speaks on issues where he is thought to be authoritative. It’s too bad that his compromising views on creation lead this attractively presented book to fall so short of the useful tool that it could have been. It may well be counterproductive, by encouraging people to commence on the ‘slippery slope’ of doubting the plain statements of the Word, and rejecting the outline of history as clearly believed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.3

References

  1. Note that modern cosmologists propose an origin of the singularity ‘from nothing’, i.e. a quantum fluctuation. But this presupposes the prior existence of the laws of quantum mechanics. Return to text.
  2. Note, too, that his assertion that the scientific dead end of pagan thinking he refers to is widely attributed to their worldview, and that the Bible is the root of the scientific approach to the world. See The biblical roots of modern science. Return to text.
  3. See e.g. Jesus and the age of the earth. Return to text.